Unhappy with lingering unfilled faculty appointments, the director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, Ibrahim Karawan, and his top deputy have resigned, leaving a leadership hole in one of the U.'s most respected scholarly hubs.
"We have been losing faculty, someone leaving and not being replaced," Karawan said. "At a certain point these losses will hamper the center's ability to do its work."
Karawan said he tendered his resignation March 21 in protest of the way Robert Newman, dean of the College of Humanities, handled the reassignments of two veteran Middle East Center faculty members: history professor Peter Sluglett and Harris Lenowitz, a language professor specializing in Hebrew.
The professors, who were assigned full time to their home departments last month, had been in conflict with Newman over the college's failure to make timely hires, particularly in the realm of Arabic language, Sluglett said.
"The center needs an infusion of five or six new appointments," said Sluglett, who came to the U. from England's University of Durham and headed the MEC from 1994 to 2000. "These appointments are being made slowly or not at all. We have only one full-time professor teaching Arabic. There used to be four."
The MEC has a special place on the U. campus as the only Title VI national resource center established under the Higher Education Act. Established in 1960, it is just one of 15 such Middle East centers and enjoys a large supporting grant competitively awarded by the Department of Education.
The center serves as a crucial cultural and intellectual community resource, hosting among other things, a lecture series that features international experts on Middle East politics and culture. This year's lineup includes an April 18 appearance of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer. U. President Michael Young regularly heaps praise on the MEC for outperforming its counterparts at prestigious schools such as Princeton and Yale and for helping internationalize the Utah campus.
Now Karawan, who announced his resignation Wednesday while introducing a Hinckley Institute of Politics lecture, fears the center's status may be in jeopardy.
"We have competition on the part of other centers that are hiring constantly," Karawan said Thursday. "This is not just an issue of personalities. It is a question of the center's viability after 50 years of success."
Also resigning a leadership post was associate director Peter von Sivers, an associate professor of history. Both men will remain on the MEC faculty, which lists 22 professors and instructors.
Newman has accepted Karawan's resignation and has begun the process of replacing Karawan, an Egyptian-educated political science scholar of international renown. The dean declined to be interviewed about the turmoil at the MEC, offering only a brief statement, and David Pershing, senior vice president for academic affairs, was out of the country.
"The changes being made in the Middle East Center deal with personnel issues, which should rightly remain private to protect those involved, and about which I simply can't comment," Newman's statement said. "It is my strong intention to continue to build a Middle East Center that is collegial, collaborative and teaches our students that leadership is tied to integrity. We have implemented governance procedures that will sustain and enhance the center, and are beginning the process of selecting a new director."
Sluglett said he received a letter from Newman early last month accusing him of "abusive and undignified behavior and a general lack of collegiality," he said. "The dean hasn't consulted any of my colleagues to see if I am as nasty as he says I am. I'm not aware that I have done anything particularly dreadful, aside from disagreeing with the dean. This isn't the army. We are entitled to have differences of opinion."
At 64, the history professor said he has no intentions of leaving the U.
"I love it here," Sluglett said. "Harris and I have been offered early retirement packages, but they are pathetic."